'Smart Turbine Blades' To Improve Wind Power

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By Sustainable Business – Matter Network — Researchers have developed a technique that uses sensors and computational software to constantly monitor forces exerted on wind turbine blades, a step toward improving efficiency by adjusting for rapidly changi

The research by engineers at Purdue University and Sandia National

Laboratories is part of an effort to develop a smarter wind turbine


“The ultimate goal is to feed information from sensors

into an active control system that precisely adjusts components to

optimize efficiency,” said Purdue doctoral student Jonathan White, who

is leading the research with Douglas Adams, a professor of mechanical

engineering and director of Purdue’s Center for Systems Integrity.


system also could help improve wind turbine reliability by providing

critical real-time information to the control system to prevent

catastrophic wind turbine damage from high winds.

“Wind energy is

playing an increasing role in providing electrical power,” Adams said.

“The United States is now the largest harvester of wind energy in the

world. The question is, what can be done to wind turbines to make them

more efficient, more cost effective and more reliable?”


engineers embedded sensors called uniaxial and triaxial accelerometers

inside a wind turbine blade as the blade was being built. The blade is

now being tested on a research wind turbine at the U.S. Department of

Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service laboratory in Bushland,

Texas. Personnel from Sandia and the USDA operate the research wind

turbines at the Texas site.

Such sensors could be instrumental in

future turbine blades that have “control surfaces” and simple flaps

like those on an airplane’s wings to change the aerodynamic

characteristics of the blades for better control. Because these flaps

would be changed in real time to respond to changing winds, constant

sensor data would be critical.

Research findings show that using

a trio of sensors and “estimator model” software developed by White

accurately reveals how much force is being exerted on the blades.

Purdue and Sandia have applied for a provisional patent on the


“The aim is to operate the generator and the turbine

in the most efficient way, but this is difficult because wind speeds

fluctuate,” Adams said. “You want to be able to control the generator

or the pitch of the blades to optimize energy capture by reducing

forces on the components in the wind turbine during excessively high

winds and increase the loads during low winds. In addition to improving

efficiency, this should help improve reliability. The wind turbine

towers can be 200 feet tall or more, so it is very expensive to service

and repair damaged components.”

Sensor data in a smart system

might be used to better control the turbine speed by automatically

adjusting the blade pitch while also commanding the generator to take

corrective steps.

“We envision smart systems being a potentially

huge step forward for turbines,” said Sandia’s Rumsey. “There is still

a lot of work to be done, but we believe the payoff will be great. Our

goal is to provide the electric utility industry with a reliable and

efficient product. We are laying the groundwork for the wind turbine of

the future.”

Sensor data also will be used to design more resilient blades.


sensors are capable of measuring acceleration occurring in various

directions, which is necessary to accurately characterize the blade’s

bending and twisting and small vibrations near the tip that eventually

cause fatigue and possible failure.

The sensors also measure two

types of acceleration. One type, the dynamic acceleration, results from

gusting winds, while the other, called static acceleration, results

from gravity and the steady background winds. It is essential to

accurately measure both forms of acceleration to estimate forces

exerted on the blades. The sensor data reveal precisely how much a

blade bends and twists from winds.

The research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through Sandia National Laboratories.

Source: Sustainable Business

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